Clay and Union counties may share 911 services

Clay and Union counties may share 911 services by David Lias The enhanced-911 system that is working well for Clay County may someday help an individual in need in northern Union County.

But some crucial details need to be worked out before a portion of Union County's emergency calls can be routed to the Clay County dispatch center in Vermillion.

That's according to Karen Olson, Vermillion's telecommunication director, who informed the Clay County Commission Tuesday of the desire of the northern portion of Union County to connect to Clay County's E-911 system.

"The Union County Commission had asked about 911 calls coming into Clay County," Olson said.

She added that she has talked with officials at U S WEST and Dakota Cooperative Telephone to try to get an accurate estimate of the number of additional telephone customers that Clay County's E-911 system would serve should the two counties decide to implement this idea.

"I don't know at this point how many customers that would be," Olson told the commission. "It may be perhaps 200 to 300 customers. And I don't know yet if Alcester will be included. My main questions are how many customers are we looking at, and what exchanges will be involved."

She also expressed a concern. Clay County's E-911 system features rural addressing and technology that automatically posts the address of a 911 call on a screen in the dispatch center in Vermillion.

Some of the telephone lines in Union County, however, haven't been upgraded to E-911.

"Some of these lines are basic 911," Olson said, meaning a dispatcher would have to try to get a caller's address or location.

"I'd hate to get basic 911 along with enhanced 911," she said. "I would like it to all be enhanced. I wouldn't want it to be a little bit of each."

If the two counties decide to get connected, decisions will need to be made on who will build the data base needed for the Union County customers. Olson suggested that Union County work with U S WEST officials to accomplish that.

Decisions will also need to be made on hook-up fees.

"But over all, their (Union County's) biggest savings would be in equipment,"Olson said.

"I assume we would need to make an agreement on sharing expenses for labor, costs and equipment," Commission Chairman Jerry Sommervold said.

Commissioner Paul Hasse stated that he didn't think any added personnel would be necessary.

"I would think that one person could handle the calls," he said. "If a dispatcher was on the line with someone and the phone rang, a secretary could answer it."

Olson said only trained dispatch personnel could answer emergency calls.

"Our liability is extremely high if we have an untrained person answering the phone," she said.

Olson added that this arrangement could bring savings in some areas, and added expenses in others.

"Combining Union and Clay counties would be a savings equipment-wise," she said. "I don't know if it's a savings personnel-wise."

"I would assume the biggest savings we would have is sharing equipment costs and sharing labor costs," Sommervold said.

Emergency calls from the southern half of Union County are routed to Woodbury County in Iowa. "So about Jefferson on up is all that we're talking about," Sommervold said. "It's the northern portion."

Olson was asked if it would necessary for northern Union County to complete rural addressing and create a data base before an arrangement could be made with Clay County.

"Why would you care if it was enhanced (911) or not?" Hasse asked. "The caller could tell you his address."

"Not if it was a little kid," Commissioner Ralph Westergaard said.

Olson said Lincoln and Turner counties presently share E-911 services.

"It's been working well," she said. "They did have to add an additional dispatcher."

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